A UK Independence Party (UKIP) European elections leaflet has used pictures of British war graves and the motto, “They fought and died to keep Britain free from foreign invasion and control by foreign powers. Don’t let their sacrifice be in vain.”
The leaflet was criticised for its insensitivity by politicians and public figures, especially because it is the centenary year of World War One. It reads, “Vote UKIP in the European parliamentary elections […] for them, for freedom, for Britain.”
British folk singer Billy Bragg posted a photo of the leaflet on his Facebook page. Bragg, who was interviewed by EurActiv last year (here), was appalled by the leaflet, which is circulating in Wales.
Questions were also raised as to whether the photos of the graves in France were actually of British soldiers. It is not the first time the anti-EU party has been criticised for its campaign posters. UKIP has been asked for comment but has not yet responded.
On Facebook, Bragg, well known for his left-wing politics, described a discussion between himself, his son and some WWII veterans in 2004, when the European elections coincided with the 60th anniversary of D-Day.
He wrote, “Unsurprisingly, they were a little suspicious of an EU dominated by Germany, but we agreed that if it meant that Jack [Bragg’s son] and his generation never had to storm any beaches, then sharing some sovereignty with our neighbours was a worthwhile endeavour.
“I thought of those old soldiers today when I saw this UKIP leaflet exploiting our war dead. Those soldiers died defending our country from foreign aggression after their politicians had failed to stop Europe from sliding into war for the second time in 25 years. As they donned their uniforms, in the back of their minds, the soldiers of the Second World War must have wondered if, like the generation before them, their sacrifice would be in vain, that the next generation were doomed to fight as they were.
“The fact that my generation didn’t have to fight was down to the structures that were put in place after the war to ensure that Britain was never threatened by a European power again. The EU is the greatest monument to the sacrifice made by soldiers who died in WWII and for UKIP to exploit them in such a manner is an utter betrayal of that sacrifice.
UK Labour councillor David Ellis said: “If the UKIP war graves leaflet is real maybe they should visit the graves in Newark of Poles who died fighting Nazism.”
UK Conservative MP Ben Gummer added, ““Those crosses look like French war graves to me. The mistake tells you all you need to know…” he tweeted.
The European Parliament said it would not be for them to comment so close to the election. The European Commission will not comment on individual posters but said any campaign must be based on facts and not prejudice.
Tough weekend for UKIP
It’s been a rough weekend for the Eurosceptic party. Janice Atkinson, the party’s most high-ranking female politician, told activists in Kent to “fuck off” and was pictured making an obscene hand gesture.
UKIP’s leader and MEP Nigel Farage said he regretted saying he would be concerned if a group of Romanians moved next door to him after widespread criticism (here).
And he was hit with accusations of racism after a radio interview on London radio station LBC. Farage was widely perceived to be bested by his interviewer in a testy 20 minute interview.
Despite the setbacks and criticism, UKIP are still predicted to enjoy unprecedented success in the European elections (here). The British vote on Thursday night but the results will not be known until Sunday.
The eurozone debt crisis kindled an anti-European mood in Britain and emboldened politicians to talk of clawing back powers from Brussels, or even leaving the bloc altogether.
British Eurosceptics, such as the UK Independence Party, see the EU as an oppressive, wasteful superstate that threatens Britain's sovereignty, want a referendum on whether to stay in the EU. They are expected to make big gains in this week's elections.
22 May: UK votes in European Parliament elections
25 May: UK votecount begins